Social Media Strategy or Social Media Tactics – Which Comes First?

Posted on January 26, 2011

Yesterday I stumbled upon this article by Lee Odden on whether tactics or strategy should be developed first when discussing social media. It seems to be a pretty heated topic and I think I’ve gathered my thoughts on it. Here’s what I came up with.

Social media requires a foundation to build a campaign on in the form of a strategy. Brands need to be able to benchmark their progress, see what content is working and what’s not, determine ROI, and target where feedback is coming from. Now, how can one do all of that if there’s no preconceived strategy? You’re throwing spaghetti to the wall without a solid strategy! How can you expect to deliver consistent, relevant information to your followers without being able to see where you are and where you’re going? Strategies give way to pre-determined objectives and form a direction for creative content. Social media without strategy is like buying a used car without test-driving it or researching its Carfax. It’s flat out stupid, and you wouldn’t ever do it.

You need some sort of plan of attack; you need to develop a voice for the brand, and keep it consistent across all channels, online and off. In the big picture, is developing a social media strategy any different than developing a traditional campaign strategy? Don’t you always need to know who you’re targeting? Where they hang out? Demographics? In essence, social media is simply a tool; a growing, sustainable, interactive, profitable tool that establishes brand equity amongst users and non-users of the brand.

The tactics you use will emerge when the strategy is developed and not a moment before that. The platform is the weapon, and how you use them are the tactics. But how can you determine this without properly identifying a strategy? Do you think the U.S. Army goes into war without a plan in mind? Obviously not.

This isn’t about playing it conservative, it’s about leveraging traditional and new mediums to harvest the benefits of both worlds. You need the consistency that is manufactured by the strategy development of traditional marketing to align with the impact, reach, and speed of social marketing.

The reason behind the need for strategy to exist first is that social media is still very much in its experimental stages and we don’t know all of its capabilities yet. We’re simultaneously working out the kinks and discovering new uses for social media every day. We know there is no one-size-fits-all solution in marketing, so why not use social media marketing as a blank canvas to sketch new ideas?

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